There Is A Reason Why They Are Called Spoilers

A recent debate among film writers, bloggers and podcasters has been ignited by recent films like Inception and Catfish. It may seem strange that these two films would be compared, or even mentioned in the same sentence. However, they do have one thing in common and that is the fact that leading up to their separate release dates, it became commonly accepted that any spoilers would ruin the film. While it is certainly true that this is accepted about most films, the issue is that just about any information beyond a sentence-long synopsis was being considered a spoiler.

This caused much frustration as film writers and podcasters were unable to discuss these films in depth without massive backlash. This frustration sparked a debate on the importance of avoiding spoilers as well as the impact of spoilers on the quality of a film. It is a debate that has played out on the IFC News podcast, the /Filmcast as well as many other podcasts and blogs, and while it has been discussed endlessly there has yet to be a clear winner, or at least a commonly accepted one.

The main argument presented by those who do not mind having a film spoiled is that a film should be effective even if the ending has been revealed. They argue that if a film is ruined by knowing a twist than it is not a good film to begin with. This is certainly a valid point, as a film which doesn’t work the second viewing, is not a great film. However, this argument also seems to ignore several important aspects.

A film is crafted to be viewed in a linear fashion, not to be seen out of order. If a filmmaker wants it to be seen that way, than it is edited in that manner. The director and screenwriter craft a story to be revealed at specific points in the film as to evoke varying emotions in the viewer. If the film’s story has been revealed to the viewer beforehand, that reveal no longer has the same impact. For example, if a viewer is watching Catfish with no knowledge of the twist that occurs midway through the film, it allows the viewer to be on the same emotional roller-coaster that the central character was on. With knowing the twist, the film would not have the same emotional impact as it would have had if it had been seen fresh.

Another important aspect that this argument forgets or ignores is that a second viewing is different than having the film spoiled before seeing it. The second viewing of a great film will hold up, and reveal things you didn’t notice the first time around. Viewing a film for the first time that has already been spoiled for you, will normally play dry and without surprise. Take Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, if the film had been spoiled, not only would the ending lose its impact but it would not play the same as if it were being watched a second time. Having experienced the twist during the first viewing, repeated viewings reveal an even more disturbing film, not to mention you are able to appreciate the hints and clues throughout the film.

It is not hard to understand the frustration caused by the inability to discuss a film in depth without heavy spoiler warnings, as I have had the difficulty of writing a spoiler-free Catfish review. However, dismissing the importance of a proper reveal or twist as an integral aspect of the filmmaking is wrong. A good film can still be ruined by being spoiled, as it was crafted to be viewed its first time completely fresh without any knowledge of the twist. Spoilers should be avoided at all times, as a great film reveal can be one of the most satisfying film experiences possible.

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5 Responses to There Is A Reason Why They Are Called Spoilers

  1. I used to have a friend that absolutely loved spoilers. He would read everything he could about a movie before seeing it. For some reason he enjoyed movies more if he knew what was going to happen. I never did understand this. As you say in your post, movies are editing and certain way for a reason. Things are meant to be revealed in a certain order. If things are not revealed in that order then, while the entire movie may not be ruined, some of the impact may be taken away.

    I have not seen Catfish but I have seen Inception and I think it is a great film. I would think it was a great film no matter what. I certainly wouldn’t want to have known the ending before seeing it though. I did go see the film twice and enjoyed picking up on things I didn’t notice on my first viewing.

    Amusingly enough, I actually posted an article on my blog yesterday about how I enjoyed The Prestige more on my second viewing. That doesn’t mean that I would have enjoyed it the first time around if someone had spoiled it for me. I probably would have liked it less the first time around if someone spoiled it for me, or worse yet, I might not have bothered to see it at all.

    So, while spoilers may not completely ruin a film for someone, it definitely takes away some of what the director intended with the film.

    Great article, by the way. Been following your blog for a couple weeks now, and I am really enjoying it.

    • The second viewing of The Prestige really reveals how great of a film it is. I felt the same way about Shutter Island, which also had a very different feel the second viewing.

      • I really enjoyed Shutter Island the first time around but I would really like to see it again. I wasn’t expecting a really big twist in Shutter Island (even though that is how it was advertised) so I was really able to just focus on how well put together the film was.

  2. Wayne Marshall says:

    Yes, The Prestige is one of those I watched twice and then showed all my friends…each time picking up on little things here and there.
    I deplore the tired argument of “It’s been out this long, you should have seen it if you didn’t want it spoiled.”
    You know what? I watch things on my own time, not yours. Granted, their is a time-frame in which talking about a twist is acceptable. If someone hasn’t seen the Sixth Sense at this point, then they probably aren’t planning to do so. At least give it a few years before you start assuming everyone who wants to see it, has seen it.
    Urgh, it’s frustrating.

  3. RunningSiren says:

    For me a “spoiler” is following a film production so much by reading blogs, watching every video clip and photograph, that by the time the film is released I know too much about the film – did that with “300” and while I loved thed film, it wasn’t the same as seeing it the first time with just knowing the basics. Reading a few reviews even if they have spoilers doesn’t seem to have the same staying power in my memory. “Inception” was fantastic, but the second viewing was even better because I knew the story and could concentrate on the fast-paced scenes and the detail in scenes that were important – and I’m looking forward to watching the DVD soon.
    And thinking of “Memento” years ago, even knowing a spoiler would not have mattered the slightest – “Memento” needed a second viewing to fully comprehend how great it is.
    In the end, it’s up to the viewer to read/watch as much as they feel is necessary or avoid any news at all to add to their enjoyment of sitting in the movie darkened movie theatre for the screening.

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